Rohingya in Chicago
For decades Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been rife with internal conflict. Hundreds of thousands of residents have been displaced from their homes and continued to live in internal displacement camps. Among the most affected have been an ethnic group of Muslims, who refer to themselves as Rohingya, who have faced longstanding and systematic oppression and persecution.
In Myanmar, the vast majority of Rohingya are denied citizenship. Basic services like education and public health services are frequently unavailable to Rohingya communities. They are viewed locally as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and thus, have few economic opportunities while facing frequent exclusion from social, economic, and governance processes. Rohingya have fled Myanmar, often in the face of government-led income seizures, forced labor and violence. For decades, but particularly in the last few months as violence returned to the northern part of the state, there have been allegations of entire villages burned to the ground, group killings and rape. In desperation, Rohingya have boarded small fishing boats to other parts of southeast Asia, braved the river crossing to Bangladesh and/or travelled through the mountains to seek asylum. Many have died in the process. Those that survive are often arrested and detained in the very countries in which they sought refuge. For years, they sit and wait.
After intensive screening and a labored process, a few Rohingya have been invited to the United States. An even smaller handful have made it to Chicago. Today, Chicago is home to over 300 Rohingya refugees, most living in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood around Devon Street. Here, they can practice their religion freely and enjoy basic public services. They are free, but that freedom is accompanied by the guilt of knowing their fellow Rohingya in Myanmar are not. The oppression and persecution of their people continues.
Rohingya in Chicago tells the stories of Rohingya refugees’ journeys in pursuit of human rights and a better life.